Washington state has become the latest state to authorize legal sports betting. On the 5th of March 2020, the state senate passed an emergency bill that will allow Native American tribal casinos to offer sports gambling services. The bill (EHB 2638) received 34 votes for and 15 against.
According to estimates, sports betting will not be available in the state for another eight to twelve months while involved parties negotiate a gambling compact.
The sports betting market in Washington State will be limited
The bill that was passed only permits tribal casinos in the state to offer sports betting and does not allow them to offer wagers on college or minor league sports.
Betting will be allowed only inside the casinos. In other words, there will be no online sports gambling options available in the state for the foreseeable future. This is going the opposite direction from where other states have recently gone to. For example, mobile bets have accounted for almost 90% of the total handle in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
During the debate that preceded the vote, committee head Rep. Strom Peterson was asked why the state’s 44 licensed card rooms will be prohibited to offer sports betting services in the bill. In his response, he referred to bi-partisan concerns of expanding the sports gambling market too fast and said that the proposed setup would allow the state to control the size of the market.
Unsurprisingly, the card rooms weren’t happy about the bill, complaining that it leaves them with no chance to get their slice of the pie and arguing that giving them the chance to offer sports betting services could have generated up to $50 million in annual state-tax revenue.
Maverick Gaming LLC, the Nevada-based gambling company, strongly opposed the bill in public. The company has purchased more than a dozen card rooms in the state during the last year.
Maverick CEO, Eric Persson, made his feelings of the bill clear in a statement that was released after the vote: “On behalf of our 2,200 employees and their families who live and work here in Washington State, we are profoundly disappointed that the State Senate has approved a tax-free monopoly for sports betting in Tribal casinos that is also tied to a manufactured ’emergency’ to prevent a public vote,” Persson said.
A good first step and a well-regulated market
Those who supported the bill saw it as a good first step for legal sports betting in Washington state.
Sen. Karen Keiser argued before the vote that the people of Washington state might not want to see widespread sports betting in the state. “That is why it is so wise for our state to take a very small step and work with our trusted partners in the tribes who have shown their ability to contain problems,” she said.
“To me, this is fundamentally about protecting a sovereign nation’s revenue and their ability to invest in education, the environment, health care, and other measures that strengthen their communities,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña.
Saldaña also wrote in a statement that “with sports betting activities only at tribes’ brick and mortar facilities, they will be doubly regulated — internally by the tribes as well as by the state Gambling Commission.” Additionally, she argued that it was important to protect the revenue of the tribes since neighboring Oregon has legalized sports betting.
The tribal governments support approximately 60,000 jobs across Washington state and pay more than $720 million dollars in state and local tax revenue. They also provide significant contributions to charities and use over $20 million to address gambling problems.
In a statement that was released after the vote, W. Ron Allen, the CEO of Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said “The 29 tribes in Washington state have a deep historical experience overseeing responsible gaming for three decades. We have a trusted, successful partnership with the state where we have effectively managed gaming in a controlled environment and avoided widespread expansion. The partnership between tribes and the state is critically important in ensuring that sports betting in Washington is safe, honest, and well regulated.”
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